How do you know if you’ve written a good song? It’s hard, right?
Sometimes, you’ll love a song immediately after you’ve written it, and then hate it two weeks later. Did you just fall out of love with it, or was the song not very good?
Beyond the song itself, the production on a song is of course incredibly important and can determine where the song lands in terms of genre and vibe.
Many artists are left wondering what the right approach is. Should you put together a focus group and show them your song? Show the song to friends and family? Show it to industry?
Getting feedback can be helpful, and even essential to your creative process. As you're developing the song, stepping back and getting a fresh set of ears on your song can be beneficial.
Today I’m going to take you through a few different ways you can get feedback on your songs, and the pros and cons of each.
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Creating A Focus Group
When companies are testing ads and products, they will show it to a consumer focus group to get feedback from would-be customers.
The focus group is be made up of mostly the product’s target audience, while aiming to be diverse, so as to get feedback from different genders, ages, etc.
There is no reason why you can’t do this with your music.
In fact, you may already be doing this to some extent.
Many musicians have trusted creative partners or friends they’ll show their creations to so they can get feedback on them. Sometimes, this will involve the partner making contributions to the song, and other times they'll provide feedback.
Either way, developing a community of people you can trust and share ideas with is critical. There are a few ways to do this.
You could literally just explain what you’re doing, and then email a handful of people you trust. Do this a few times and you’ll quickly find out who offers good advice.
Or you could just casually show ideas and songs to people you trust and get feedback. I often get my roommate to listen to my songs. She doesn’t play music, which is good, because I like hearing what parts of the songs grab her right away.
I also created a community of artists by accident, by organizing a song club. The idea was, every artist has to write a song every week and upload it to Dropbox. Everyone would leave feedback, and it ended up being a great way to share.
I’ll write a full article on song club sometime soon.
Showing Friends & Family
Showing your music to friends and family can be good, but it has its drawbacks.
For one thing, it’s hard to tell if your close friends and family are being honest with you. There is no reason why they shouldn’t be, but people close to us have a tendency to just support us without too much critical thinking.
Be sure to demand honesty, if honesty is what you’re looking for.
It can also be hard to show close friends and family personal songs, that you’ve just written.
Sometimes, you write songs that are deeply personal, and might include things that would be difficult to share with family. When a song is fully written and recorded, it’s easier to show people, because it’s less raw and vulnerable.
Feeling shy about your personal creations is normal, and if you’re not comfortable sharing, then you shouldn’t feel obligated to.
Finally, friends and family can be a weird focus group, because I find they have a tendency to take lyrics very seriously and literally.
Sometimes, you write a lyric not because it’s true, but because it sounds good or feels right or makes the story better.
I have noticed that family and friends will tend to take you very seriously, and potentially even worry about you. This can make sharing less comfortable.
All in all, your family and friends can be a perfectly fine focus group, but they need to be honest, they need to be able to reserve judgement, and also suspend disbelief and judge a song as a song – not as a diary entry.
Showing You Song To Industry
For a while, I was sending demos to a lot of industry people. I no longer think this is a good idea.
Using industry to focus group a song seems like a good idea, because they are people who may be able to help you once the song is done, or once you write a great song.
The only industry people you should send your songs to are people you are already working with – management, publicists, labels, etc. These people are part of your team, and can have a say.
In general, I do not think you should trust industry people with your songs. Here’s why:
They May Not Be Able To See Passed The Demo Or Rough Mix
My chief concern with industry is that although they claim they can “imagine a song once it’s fully recorded or fully mixed”, half of the time they can’t.
They’ll get caught on sloppy mix moves or half-finished demo production and decide it’s not good enough.
This can be very discouraging and send the completely wrong message without giving any useful feedback.
They May Influence Your Direction Too Much
I have also made the mistake of taking people’s advice too seriously, just because they were in a position of power over me.
Making creative decisions because some industry person told you to is not always the right move. Sometimes you must trust your gut or just chase down your own vision. Half of the time, that’s a better call anyways.
Specifically, at one point I was working with a manager who was well-connected, and was offering me a lot of good opportunities. However, he had my band writing with a bunch of pop writers, changing our mixes, changing arrangements – all in all it was a total mistake.
Nobody knows what your music should sound like better than you, and you shouldn’t have to compromise.
If They Don't Like It, They May Write You Off
If they don’t like it – for whatever reason (the song itself, a bad demo, or a bad mix) they may write you off in the future.
This is probably the biggest concern. If you’re not presenting them with a product they can almost immediately get behind, they may just forget all about it.
You’re Not Putting Your Best Foot Forward
These days, I think it’s best to finish your song or album completely, and then start sending it around.
Why not approach someone with a product you don’t have to make excuses for. No more “it’ll sound better with harmonies” or “it’ll sound better once it’s mixed” – no. Get it done, then send it around.
If people like the music, they’ll want to get to work right away. Why hold them up? Have a product they can immediately work on.
Do Independent Musicians Need Focus Groups? Summary
When sharing songs with others, what matters most is honesty, comfort, and your ability to discern good feedback and bad feedback.
If you execute well, then you can build a valuable network of people helping you make better music, every day.